What is a subtle food myth?
Well, if you turn to Google you probably won't find much. It's not exactly an official term. But it's a description I'm using for perceptions that take hold over time. For instance, you might think of the idea that spinach gives you big muscles. It's not just something we saw in old Popeye cartoons, but something kids perpetuated for years.
Similarly, you might think of the idea that milk automatically leads to "strong bones," or that carrots help you see well at night. Often, there's at least some truth to these perceptions – but on some level, they're myths, at least in their simplicity.
Here I wanted to point to four such subtle myths, and point out their flaws for the benefit of your own nutrition. These are foods that science simply says we should treat differently than we (or at least many of us) do.
1. Carbs Make You Fat
That's not a particularly nice way of phrasing it – we might tend to say that carbs contribute to weight gain – but I suppose that's semantics. At any rate, this is how it was put in another article about common food myths, which took care to point out that there's nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates.
This is a myth that took hold with the Atkins Diet revolution, and which has come back to some degree with the paleo and keto craze. In a way, it's not without its merits. You probably know someone who "just cut out bread and pasta" or something of the like and dropped 10 pounds in two months. Good for them! Those generally can be fattening foods. But to make the blanket assumption that all carbs make you fat means you're also steering clear of healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, and, well, you get it.
These are terrific foods for giving you energy (which you need to exercise properly) and fiber (which helps you burn fat), among other things. So, while cutting back on bread and pasta can be a decent idea, the idea that "carbs make you fat" automatically is ludicrous. It's good to see that new diets like Noom have gone out of their way to stress this point with their recommended food list.
Think of all carbs as New York City. Sure there are bad neighborhoods, but why would you avoid visiting the entire city because of them?!
2. Celery Burns Calories
Truth be told, I'm not sure where this myth actually came from. I can't trace it back to a cartoon like Popeye or to "Got Milk?" commercials. But it is something I've heard from many different people over the years, and if I'm being honest, it's something I've repeated to others.
The myth, specifically, is that because celery is so sinewy, it's a little bit of a pain for the body to digest. And, in working so hard to break down those pesky veggie sinews, the body supposedly burns more calories than it puts into your body to begin with.
The phrase for this phenomenon is that celery has "negative" calories. This just isn't true – which means you shouldn't necessarily start devouring celery if you're looking for a calorie-negative way to snack (there really is no such thing). However, while I'd recommend you not rely on celery, it's still a low-calorie food with a lot of fiber content (which actually does help you to burn fat). So do eat it – just don't assume it's doing your job for you.
3. Calories at Bedtime Lead to Weight Gain
You know what leads to weight gain? An excessive calorie intake in general. Yet the above statement is common advice to people who are looking to shed a few pounds. It's not hard to see where the advice comes from. In all likelihood, it's meant to refer to "fourth meal" eating, which is to say extra snacking (or a whole extra meal) late at night, when you've already consumed all you need to in the day.
In such cases, in a roundabout way, sure – those extra bedtime calories are going to lead to some weight gain. However, it really has nothing to do with the timing of the snack.
As far as timing goes, calories are calories, plain and simple. And for what it's worth, some dietitians actually argue that a healthy snack before bed can help promote weight loss. So, think of it as good trouble. It gives your blood sugar a boost, which leads to sounder sleep (which is good for weight loss).
4. Fruit Is For Cartoons
Believe it or not, this one is pretty deeply ingrained for a lot of us. Essentially, kids see fruit all the time in cartoons and video games, but don't really think to actually eat it. I mean, McDonald's tries to include it in kids' meals, but it ends up in the trash!
Sure, we all know that food is generally healthy – but think about it for a second. Can't you picture Aladdin rolling an apple down his arm and popping it off his elbow? Did you maybe get a kick out of South Park's "member berries" in 2016? Perhaps you've played Fruit Ninja? Some people have been playing cartoonish fruit-related slot machines for literally decades.
In fact, one still exists online, promising a bonus feature that amounts to "a decadent cornucopia of fruit spilling out of a shell." Fruit is everywhere in cartoonish fashion, and it can start to seem like a silly treat, or candy-like food.
The reality, of course, is that fruit is jam-packed (no pun intended) with nutrients, so it's no joke. Of course some fruits are better than others, but so long as you don't overdo it, it's one of the best things you can put into your daily diet.
When it comes to food, there are a lot of myths, and just because you read it on the internet doesn't mean it's true! (Except when it comes to politics, of course! Ha, ha.)